A further taste of Going Down Swinging #31, ahead of the launch tomorrow night (Friday 17, 8pm, Builders Arms Hotel in Fitzroy). Here are a couple of short excerpts from the brilliant short story ‘Beautiful Useful Things’, by Eric Yoshiaki Dando.
I ask H and Dee and Jay to pose for some staged worksite photos for the National Innovation Award application. I get a good close-up of H’s hand, weeding a lettuce. I like this photo because you can see the groovy faded red and green jailhouse tattoo of a star he got done in Pentridge in the “70s.
We aren’t allowed to take photos of anyone’s face.
Dead budgie heads
H keeps telling us he always gets even. When someone rips him off, or rats him out, or roots his missus. He will get them in the end. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen.
Like when he went round to his friend’s house and chopped all the heads off his budgies – lined all the budgie heads up in a neat little row. He rolls his eyes back and does a quick impression of one of the dead budgie heads and we all laugh.
“But hang on H,” I say, “you love animals, don’t you? I know you love animals, you have a turtle and a rooster at home and you love them, you told me that you love them.”
“Yeah,” says H, “I love animals but I don’t care. If some cunt is dirty on me I’ll fix him up. I went round to this cunt’s house the next day and he was crying, he said, ‘Look what they did to me birds. Me beautiful birds!’ I said, ‘Oh, that’s terrible.’ He didn’t even twig it was me.”
I feel I have to tell H exactly what I think. “One day,” I say to H carefully, “a gang of giant budgies is going to peck your head off.” Later, I reinforce to H that it really is a terrible thing he did to those budgies and that he must make up for it somehow or more terrible things will happen to him. “It must be very bad for your karma,” I say.
H is interested by the idea of this, but then shrugs it off, “What else can they do to me?” he says, folding his arms. “Bring it on.” he says, “What the fuck do I care? Come on all you cunts, come and get me.”
I must confess I can’t stand it when people say “Bring it on.” My mum said it the other day. The other thing she said was, “It’s all good.” Next she’ll be putting a cap in my ass.
Jay says “It’s all good” all the time. He says it after telling me terrible horrible stories about his life. I think about Jay’s horrible life all the time, it is one of the hazards of the job. Jay says it’s all good when quite obviously there is nothing good. No good here. Nothing doing. That’s what we should be saying to each other as we stand here drinking tea and leaning on shovels. “Nothing doing,” someone will say. “Yeah, nothing doing,” someone will say back to them.
H has had a fight with his wife and she wouldn’t give him any money for lunch. “She gave me one cigarette for the whole day,” he says. “One cigarette. How tight is that? What a cold hard bitch. How am I going to survive on one cigarette?”
Jay buys H a pie and a doughnut for lunch and he can’t believe it. “Fuck thanks, I’ll pay you back next week I promise,” he says. “You’re a good cunt,” he says to Jay, smiling.
“I don’t like seeing people go hungry.” says Jay.
“Listen,” says H, moving up really close to Jay, “what I really need is a cigarette.”
“Sorry,” says Jay. “It’s my last one.”
Useful and productive
That night I tell Jasmine that I am recording all the times my students are kind to each other. So I can quantify the quality of their interactions for corrective services. So I can gather up all the criminals in the world and grow vegetables – drunk drivers and paedophiles and armed robbers producing broccoli and tomatoes and zucchini for the people.
Jasmine says she is thinking of starting a small business with Yarra. Something to do with lollypops. Holographic lollypops. She is looking at web sites and talking to Yarra and me at the same time. I don’t even hear what she is saying, I am too busy thinking about my new world order with the criminals. All of us working together, caring for the vegetables and being nice to the animals.
Sensitive New Age Man
The students are talking about hitting women. H says that he never hits women – except when they scratch or spit at him, then he just loses his temper. Like with his ex-wife. He told her not to spit and what did she do? Spat him right in the eye, so he punched her in the face – he punched her pretty hard and she fell down and turned white.
Oh no, said H to himself. What have I done?
She was on the floor and he couldn’t find a pulse. H thought she was dead so he rolled her up in a piece of carpet and that’s when she woke up. She kicked and punched her way out of the carpet and ran across the road to her mum’s place. Then they both came back with the neighbours to get the kids. He tried to talk some sense into her, but her mum called the cops on him. The cops put this restraining order on him.
“You know what,” realises H thoughtfully, “I think that was the day my marriage ended.”
It was easy for H’s wife. You wake up rolled in a piece of carpet and you know it’s over. You just know.